Leitz 5cm f2 Summitar

When we think of Leica, the second thing we often think of is Summicron.  But before Leica formulated their legend, there was a lesser known yet still quite remarkable nifty 50.  Thanks to having been overshadowed by the Cron, this very capable Leitz 50/2 is usually available for less than $400.  That’s right, I’m talking about the Summitar.

1939’s Summitar was a step up from 1932’s Summar.  It was also collapsible and featured the same aperture and focus range, however Summitar’s front element was a more complex two elements cemented together and, importantly was UV coated.  These improvements on the front element made for less flaring, vignetting and other optical aberrations that troubled the Summar.  Early Summitars from 1939 to 1950 featured 10 aperture blades, two more than Summar, which produce circular out of focus points of light.  In 1950, Leica returned to the 6 blade Summar aperture design which produces hexagonal out of focus points of light when stopped down.  Early Summitars feature the odd aperture f-numbers (2, 2.2, 3.2, 4.5, 6.3, 9, 12.5) and later versions feature modern/standard ones (2, 2.8, 3.5, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16).  Summitars do not contain click-stops, however, they share essentially the same barrel design with the first generation of Summicrons, so rest assured, the Summitar’s haptics are quite good for such an early lens.

The Summitar was my first proper Leica 50.  Mine came to me as many do, mounted to a IIIf where it probably spent all of its life.  However, my first rolls of film with the Summitar showed far too much of that fabled “Leica Glow” which I’m pretty sure is nothing more than idiots running around shooting unserviced lenses.  Once my Summitar had been professionally cleaned, my use of it took off.

Leitz 5cm Summitar prior to cleaning, note “Leica glow”, worked in this shot but I didn’t want it for the long haul

The Summitar pairs fine on a Barnack Leica or a 35mm M body and will collapse into each without issue.  Of course, you need to run an LTM to M adaptor if you’re going to mount it to an M.

Similar to Leitz 5cm 1.5 Summarit, the Summitar’s OoF PoL can get crescent-shaped towards the outside of the frame

The aperture ring on my copy is a LITTLE loose, there’s not really much dampening to speak of, however, I think this is normal for pre-click-stop LTM lenses, my Summar and 9cm Elmar are the same and this is before and after service.  If you’ve never used a lens without click-stops, it’s not as weird as you may imagine.  In fact, it feels a bit liberating with a metered body because you can dial in the aperture to precisely what your meter indicates.  This is probably a great feature for slide film shooters.

Christina was a lovely bride!  😉

Focus on the Summitar is achieved via a little focus knob which can lock into the infinity position then be pressed in to release it and ride along closer distances, just like many earlier/short Leitz lenses.

Summitar uses an odd size filter thread of 36mm.  Most shooters buy a 36-39mm adapter for their Summitar in order to mount a Summicron style hood.  I made the massive mistake of buying some Chinese crap adaptor from eBay for this purpose only to get the adaptor stuck on my lens due to incorrect thread pitch.  So don’t do that!  I have found that, while a bit wonky in appearance, the correct, original rectangular Summitar hood made by Leica actually works beautifully and is, as we’d expect, of exceptional and quite satisfying build quality.

Shots like this demonstrate how beautiful the in and out of focus separation can be, even if your subject is making a silly face!

Summitar is a sharp lens.  I know, there’s no such thing as a sharp lens!  Look, you know what I’m talking about so I’m going to say it even if it makes the MTF lunatics roll their eyes, THE SUMMITAR IS A SHARP LENS!  At full aperture and down, if you focus your camera correctly, you’ll get sharp photos, corner to corner, from this lens.

more of that crescent-shaped oof points of light effect and clean separation, Chaz & Nicole are two of my favorite clients

Out of focus area is exactly what you’d expect from Leica, cream, butter, whatever savory food noun you want to apply.  But as noted, later model Summitar, like mine, produce hexagonal out of focus points of light.  If you don’t like that, look for a pre-1950 copy but look, at full aperture, you still get circular oof points of light so I’ve always enjoyed the variation.

Stop down a little and get hexagons, keep it open to get circles/crescents

Apparently many Summitars have extensive scratching to their coating so make note of this when you’re hunting for one.  And after you buy one, keep it capped, hooded etc and only clean it when absolutely necessary; good practice for any lens really.

Val Emmich used one of my Summitar shots on his website following a local show
Blurry slow shutter shot that doesn’t really demonstrate the quality of the Summitar but when Sam’s dancing, it’s a good time!  Took this with my IIIc.
Out of focus leaf light always brings some magic, Christa & Ben have some Summitar swirlios going on, as well as matching flannel!
The Summitar can hold its own as your go-to Leica 50 as Christina happily demonstrates
Even a broken mirror is no match for the resolving power of the mighty Leitz Summitar!

That’s all I’ve got!  I hope you’ve enjoyed my review of the Leitz 5cm f2 Summitar!  If you’re looking for an affordable Leica 50, I highly recommend it!  Oh, and if you need a reliable hood for your Summitar, check this out!

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23 thoughts on “Leitz 5cm f2 Summitar

  1. Mine arrives Wednesday. Hopefully without haze / fog / too many coating scratches – it’s a KEH UGLY special.


    1. Congrats on the purchase! I don’t want to be a downer and hopefully I’m wrong but I strongly discourage friends from purchasing any Leica gear from KEH. A friend of mind had continuously poor experiences with doing so across a number of Leica lenses and M bodies over the course of nearly a full year. Based on the issues, it became very clear that they didn’t, maybe still do not, have staff properly trained in refurbing or even inspecting Leica products. I always recommend KEH for Japanese gear but recommend Tamarkin.com for Leica now. Like I said though, maybe I’m wrong, hopefully, you’ll get lucky, but be very critical and don’t shoot anything important with it for some time! Let me know how it goes! You’ll love the Summitar if it’s a decent copy!


      1. Let’s see… first KEH purchase was a 16-18-21mm f/4 Elmar-M ASPH, AKA WATE, last June. I’ve used that lens for residential real estate shooting for a local agent, and on a photo tour I led to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument – https://tinyurl.com/y9zrxgfe

        Then I picked up a 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH (2016). It’s pretty good for astrophotography, among other things – https://tinyurl.com/y7w9gskj.

        I bought a BGN-condition Leica SL for 2/3 the price of a new one – had them describe the condition and operation for me over the phone before I bought. It’s been flawless.

        The 50/2 Summitar (1949 – coated, 10-blade aperture) passed the penlight test – no discernible haze inside. There are a few cleaning scratches in the front element, but nothing like the messy spirals I put into the front element of a 1954 50/1.5 Summarit as a teenager. (Got that lens re-coated at Focal Point in Colorado right before they went out of business.)

        The Summitar’s aperture ring is a little stiff in the direction that tightens the extended lens (fortunately turns somewhat smoothly in the other direction) – probably needs a CLA. Hopefully my local repair guy can do it here in Albuquerque. Shots with it have so far been great: https://tinyurl.com/y8nk2hgd, https://tinyurl.com/yd6vr2e6.

        I’ve also had good luck with http://www.lensauthority.com. Picked up a 24/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH there for $3850 a few weeks ago, and here’s one from that lens on the SL – https://tinyurl.com/y8jq2l4j

        So I’ve had good luck with KEH.

        Tamarkin was a late-arriving competitor for the suburban Winnetka store I worked for, Stern’s Camera. LHSA Viewfinder editor Bill Rosauer and I worked at Stern’s part-time as teenagers In the 19070s. I was on Tamarkin’s waiting list for an M10 last year, but ended up buying one through Bill instead.


      2. Glad to hear you’ve had better luck with buying Leica products from KEH. However, you have named very new Leica lenses and a body which have probably seen very little use and would be unlikely to have maintenance issues. I should have cited particulars about the incidents that I cited but didn’t want to belabor my point. Perhaps I should refine my warning to “vintage Leica gear!” The items my friend had issues (too numerous to mention) with were M6 classics, an older 50 Cron and I had a focusing with an LTM Soligor 135mm that I purchased from them. These older/used Leica bodies and lenses require specialized maintenance and I firmly believe that KEH does not have the expertise for this.


  2. Few people have the expertise to fix Leica gear. When I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was lucky to have Fred Mueller at International Camera Technicians (http://www.ictcamera.com/About/about.html) available to maintain my M3, M6 TTL and old M-lenses.

    Other than glacially-slow Leica USA, a few other independent repair shops also do competent Leica work. I had my M10’s large viewfinder window replaced at Steve’s Camera Service Center in Culver City, CA (https://www.stevecamera.com) after I got too close to rocks and cracked it in Albuquerque’s Petroglyph National Monument. Neither http://www.DAGcamera.com (Don Goldberg) nor Sherry Krauter (http://www.sherrykrauter.com) would touch it. Sherry won’t fix digital Leicas, and Don couldn’t get the necessary adhesive.

    My local Albuquerque shop AP-T Camera Repair (http://www.ap-t.com) tightened the aperture ring on a 1960-vintage 35mm f/2 RF Summicron v1, but had to send a 35mm f/2 Summicron-M ASPH to Leica USA for its loose focusing and aperture rings. That lens was at Leica 5 months.

    Anyway, I look forward to more of your articles.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My 1949 Type 1 Summitar has a lot of field curvature. That can be handy in places where I have near and far items (like a landscape with bushes at the edge of the frame close by), but is challenging to use on flat surfaces. Have you heard of such curvature before with other Summitars?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi I was wondering if the Summitar 5cm would fit on a leica M10 when collapsed? would it damage the M? i really want to get a Summitar but worried about it damaging the sensor on the m10. thank you so much in advance.


    1. Thanks for reading, Paul. I’m a 35mm shooter so I’m not the best guy to ask! I hear mixed opinions on the topic for some reason but I am pretty sure that Leica recommends not collapsing any lenses into digital M bodies. I’d say that about 70% of the time or more, I keep my collapsible lenses extended anyway. I collapse them only when using a smaller/tightly packed camera bag. In the winter, I may put the entire camera/lens in a big jacket pocket and collapse the lens. But when actively shooting, I keep these lenses extended because it’s not always a perfectly orchestrated motion to extend, and importantly, lock them. If they’re not locked in place when extended, this can result in out of focus images. So for me, the collapsibility is not so critical. If you find a more definitive answer, I’d be curious!


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